What Is Mobile Broadband/Mobile Video?
3G mobile networks have been with us since the early 2000s, and bring several enhanced services, notably in the areas of data and video.
Video is delivered to mobile largely in one of two ways: either via "video calling" or via mobile data. Video calling is an intrinsic feature of 3G and allows voice, video, and control information to travel on the standard wireless interface. This allows person-to-person video calling, or perhaps more interestingly, services employing a "video gateway" and a network-based application. Some obvious applications are video conference integration for mobile users, and social networking. However, it is also possible to build applications with a visual interface, where the "app" itself lives in the network rather than in the handset, which is advantageous for handsets that are not smartphones, but still have video calling capabilities.
Smartphones have driven mobile data growth, with users wanting mobile email, or even full internet access. Following the smartphones' success are a plethora of connected devices like the Apple's iPad and Dell's Streak, and netbooks that are often internet-enabled, using inexpensive 3G USB modems. High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSPA) networks are rapidly being rolled out to meet the need for data, with more than 200 live today offering 3.6 Mbps or higher [GSMA]. Even faster and more cost-effective networks, using HSPA+ and Long Term Evolution (LTE), are already in the planning stages. Data has become a staple service for Cellcos, and a way to offer a whole series of services including VoIP and video.
Mobile Broadband/Mobile Video Market Trends
Video is a fast-growing source of traffic on the internet, which has been made possible by the worldwide growth of flat-rate home broadband services. The many different applications for video include video blogs/video share, conferencing/video calling, IPTV entertainment services, and many other vertical uses, including security and health. YouTube, which launched in 2005, popularized video sharing and personifies the "over-the-top" approach; that is, sending video via the public internet, to any internet-connected device, including mobile. This approach is now also used by services like Hulu and the iPlayer (BBC), which transmit "catch-up" TV via the internet.
In the last couple of years, mobile broadband has reached a tipping point in terms of price and capability through data services like HSPA and Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO). So today, video is also reaching out to mobile endpoints, and there has been an explosion in video capture, manipulation, messaging, and broadcast. The technology has raced ahead, but now the business models need to catch up, with services that connect video with money.
Benefits of Mobile Broadband/Mobile Video
With the falling price of consumer devices and the expanding possibilities of video delivery via the internet and TCP/IP, consumers are faced with a growing choice of entertainment and information possibilities. Video is now used more than ever for two-way communication and messaging, surveillance, entertainment, and social networking.
The mobile world offers more choices, too. People want to do more with their mobile devices, and this means not just watching television, but also interacting with mobile services. Mobile interactivity means that mobile users can use video-based application platforms (sometimes called IVVR or Interactive Voice and Video Response) to perform many of the same services that they could get using an internet connection on a PC; for example, check-in for a flight, order a book, take part in an online auction, get a horoscope, or reset a lost password. As smartphones (and now tablets and netbooks) get more and more powerful, the full experience of the web is coming to the mobile user, and this means that the full experience of video is coming along, too.
Mobile Broadband/Mobile Video Technology
Mobile today has essentially two popular technologies to deliver video to the handset. The first is using 3G video calling, and the second is streaming via a broadband data connection, typically delivered as a web browser experience.
Video calling is one of the unique benefits of 3G mobile technology, and distinguishes 3G from 2G wireless. In 3G, it is possible to set up a network connection using a technology called 3G-324M. Instead of providing a pure voice channel (for example, using GSM or AMR voice codecs), 3G-324M multiplexes together voice, video, and control information in a single 64 kbps pipe. This is very bandwidth-efficient, and allows voice and video to go point-to-point (between handsets), or from handset to a gateway, where it can be transcoded to another format (for example, the MPEG-4 that is widely used on the internet). By convention, 3G video calling uses the H.263 video codec, and supports small screen sizes, like CIF (352 × 288 pixels) or QCIF (176x144), optimized for mobile screens. The following figure is an example of 3G video calling technology.
Broadband video allows mobile users to access the web while on the move, and so can connect to a variety of familiar video experiences; for example, the entertainment site YouTube, or catch-up TV via the BBC iPlayer. Broadband video can be delivered as a smartphone app, or can be part of the browsing experience via browser plug-ins. A multiplicity of standards are offered today, and depending the kind of phone, video might be delivered using Flash (or Flash Lite), QuickTime, HTTP Streaming, RealPlayer, or Silverlight. In recent years, mobile screens have gotten larger, with greater resolution and color range, often using touch-technology to maximize the displayable area on the phone. Many of the video solutions are now converging on the H.264 codec as a standard. H.264 can support a variety of picture sizes and frame rates, and increasingly underpins everything from mobile right up to full HD television in letterbox (16:9) or academy (4:3) formats. Smartphones can have very large screens (600 pixels and still climbing), so can provide a more compelling video experience than the CIF support in 3G-324M. Larger picture size and frame rate also means increased bandwidth, which can be a challenge in the mobile wireless environment, both in terms of the wireless coverage and in operator backbone capacity. The following figure is an example of streaming via a broadband data connection.
Video is the fastest growing component of internet traffic, and it is important for operators to maintain good bandwidth control while allowing new services to flourish. 3G-324M is an import tool for providing rate-controlled video, and also has the benefit that it is supported by feature phones and does not require a data plan, so potentially can reach a wider audience of mobile users. On the other hand, the mobile web is a growing phenomenon that is fuelled by the increasing market share of smartphones like the iPhone, Android-OS, BlackBerry, and Nokia. GSMA reports that 27% of the world's phones have access to the mobile web, so potentially these users can access video as part of a web-browsing experience.